Smackdown Books 2018

Wolf Hollow
Salt to the Sea
The Serpent King
Optimists Die First
The Hate U Give
Orphan Island
Dan vs. Nature
The Female of the Species
March
Unbecoming
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere
Paper Girls, Vol. 1
The Passion of Dolssa
The Distance Between Us
When We Collided
Louis parmi les spectres
OCDaniel
Girl in the Blue Coat
Refugee
Defy the Stars

Thursday, February 23, 2017

One is the One




While I’ve ranted and raved about the limitations of these novels in verse in the past, I’ll begrudgingly admit that the form worked well for both One and The Gospel Truth. This was a surprisingly difficult decision for our little Callingwood crew, but ultimately, we all ended up in agreement that One was the book to move on.

To be honest, I’m still a little surprised by this. From a fairly young age, ( I think I read Alex Haley’s Roots for the first time when I was eleven or twelve) I’ve been intrigued by the horrible period in American history that is featured in The Gospel Truth. This was part of the challenge of this choice for me, I think, as this book seems to me to be a pretty powerful way to start an important conversation with division two and three students, in a way that doesn’t minimize the horrors of the slavery era, but also doesn’t provide more trauma than a younger child might be equipped to deal with. The story line was compelling and the characters were crafted with subtlety and, true to the novel’s form (and testament to the author's research), their voices rang true, even if the relative slimness of the volume maybe limited the depth and nuance with which the author explored some complex issues relating to history and identity. There was a sense in our group that the drama of the escape sequence was perhaps a little short-lived, but that was a minor critique of a generally very well-crafted novel. We also did speak about the whole issue of, for lack of a better term, cultural appropriation, and I was really pleased to see that issue explored head-on in a thoughtful interview with the author at the end of the novel. That was a wise publishing decision and one that really enhanced my sense that this is a book that would function equally as well in the hands of a strong independent reader as it would in the hands of a teacher looking for a powerful educational experience for his/her students.

If I was a bit surprised that a novel set in an era where I’ve done a fair amount of reading wasn’t my automatic pick, you could knock me over with the proverbial feather that I’m here recommending a teen drama (with all the tropes in full effect) centered on conjoined twins. I’m not entirely sure why it works so well, but it does. I would also have bet my last dollar that a verse novel focused on conjoined twins would feature dueling narratives, but the author defies that expectation, and perhaps counter-intuitively this turned out to be the absolute right choice. It took me awhile to figure out why, because, initially, I kept wanting that flip to see what the other twin’s take on things was, but as the narrative progressed, I realized that our narrator was crafting her sister with an intimacy that could only come about through their unique brand of closeness. The single narrative ended up being a powerful affirmation of the multitude of ways that concept of “one” functions in this novel. That narrative is also essential to the sense of unity of the novel as the narrative arc (particularly the ending) couldn’t function in any meaningful way within a dual narrative. So, that’s my technical take on why it works, but ultimately, I think we all just found the book emotionally gripping, and as with all great literature, it was both unique and universal. It’s been a little while since I’ve hung around with teenagers on a daily basis , but I think this author gets kids at a core level and there are moments in this novel, despite its unique premise, that are going to resonate with any reader. It’s a moving and often nuanced exploration of identity, but it has entry points for readers at many different intellectual and emotional levels and I think a lot of us will be looking to get this into kids hands sooner rather than later. We were all really happy to read two fine books in this round and while we struggled a bit, we feel confident in moving One on to the next round.

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